Cockatiel Intelligence – Are Cockatiels Smart?

Planning to teach your tiel some tricks, but not sure if it is smart enough. You might be surprised to know that cockatiel intelligence surpasses even that of cats and dogs!

A cockatiel makes a great companion bird thanks to its high emotional intelligence and affectionate nature. 

After all, who doesn’t love smart and intelligent pets who can interact with you and can be taught some tricks? 

As a pet owner who’s always intrigued by animal intelligence, I decided to explore a bit. In case you’re wondering how smart cockatiels are, this article will answer your queries.

FREE video course:
Stop Your Bird's Biting

    Cockatiel Intelligence - Are Cockatiels Smart

    How Smart Are Cockatiels?

    Unlike humans, you can’t exactly measure animal cognition all that well. Furthermore, there haven’t been many studies regarding how smart, or intelligent cockatiels are, either. 

    However, you can stay assured of one thing – cockatiels are smart enough to mimic songs, complex phrases, words, and tricks. 

    Lots of online blogs say that they are about as smart as two-year-old human children. I wasn’t satisfied, so I dug around a bit more.

    What is their brain size?

    Being birds, cockatiels have rather small brains. Their brain mass is just about 2.2g, among the smallest within even the cockatoo family, leave alone humans.

    However, you should note that having a small brain doesn’t give an accurate representation of animal cognition. 

    For a very long time in the past, the brain size of animals was used as one of the most reliable ways to measure their intelligence.

    Cockatiel Intelligence - Are Cockatiels Smart
    Brain size is not the same as intelligence!

    While it’s true that animals with larger brains are usually smarter, researchers have now come up with a more accurate tool to measure animal intelligence. 

    The intellectual capacity of birds is now measured in terms of the number of cells and neurons per ounce of the brain, compared to that of other species of similar size.

    Cockatiels have a high neuron density in their forebrains – even more than primates.

    Is there any scientific evidence of their intelligence?

    Apart from their neuron density, cockatiels also display impressively well-developed problem-solving abilities. 

    Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of scientific evidence of their intelligence simply due to the absence of suitable tools for measurement.

    The American Psychological Association (APA) has devised specific ways to measure canine intelligence, even dividing it into three different categories. 

    However, there has not been any classification regarding avian intelligence. Researchers have to rely on various tests and compare the performance of different species of birds.

    These tests check a bird’s abilities to solve problems, use tools, remember things, etc. Cockatiels routinely fare quite well in all these tests, displaying high intelligence by avian standards. 

    It’s also commonplace for cockatiels to communicate with special sounds and whistles to communicate specific things.

    To sum up, the available scientific evidence doesn’t give us an exact measurement of cockatiel intelligence but does show that it’s a very intelligent bird. 

    Parrot species, in general, are among the most intelligent birds in the world, and cockatiels are among the smartest among them.

    Cockatiel Intelligence - Are Cockatiels Smart
    Cockatiels love to learn by playing

    Cockatiels Compared To Other Pets

    As mentioned already, measuring avian intelligence is a little hard. Still, it’s possible to compare the intelligence level of different bird and animal species against one another. 

    Let’s check out how intelligent cockatiels are compared to other common pets.

    Are Cockatiels Smarter Than Dogs?

    I know you might find this a bit hard to believe, but cockatiels are possibly even smarter than dogs. This is a bit hard to gauge since the two species are intelligent in their own ways.  

    FREE video course:
    Stop Your Bird's Biting

      It’s quite common for dog parents to teach their pets various tricks, but did you know that cockatiels can learn tricks much faster than dogs?

      The biggest factor that makes cockatiels smarter than dogs, however, is their ability to communicate. 

      Cockatiels can learn and mimic human speech far better than dogs and can even speak entire phrases. 

      While dogs mostly communicate through howling and barking, cockatiels use more logical reasoning to acquire food. With more neurons in the brain than a dog, cockatiels score much higher in the world of animal cognition. 

      They have a much stronger memory, enabling them to remember the tricks taught to them. Dogs, though, are better than cockatiels at solving problems and complex puzzles.

      Cockatiel Intelligence - Are Cockatiels Smart
      Cockatiels have strong memory

      Are They Smarter Than Cockatoos, Conures, Budgies, or Lovebirds?

      Cockatiels are smart, but so are several other common pet bird species. 

      Let’s compare them against some of the other birds known to show intelligent behavior and see where they stand.

      Cockatiel vs. Cockatoo

      Although cockatiels are also a member of the cockatoo family,  cockatoos easily beat them when it comes to smartness. 

      Both of them can learn tricks, but cockatoos can do so even by watching other birds. 

      Besides, they can learn more complex tricks than cockatiels. Wild cockatoos have a similar mental capacity as captive ones.

      Cockatiel vs. Conure

      Conures and cockatiels are both intelligent, but they excel at different types of intelligence. 

      Cockatiels are much better at mimicking speech and singing. Conures, on the other hand, learn tricks quicker and are more acrobatic.

      Cockatiel vs. Budgie

      Once again, we have two birds that are very similar in terms of intelligence. Both cockatiels and budgies are capable of speech. 

      They both show impressive emotional intelligence and make great companions for children and elderly people alike.

      Cockatiel Vs Budgie
      Cockatiels an budgies are equally smart

      Cockatiel vs. lovebird

      Between lovebirds and cockatiels, the latter is much smarter. You can teach a lovebird simple tricks, but a cockatiel is a much better learner.

      Cockatiels are more trainable, while lovebirds take longer to train. Unlike cockatiels, lovebirds can’t learn a variety of tunes and phrases either.

      Do Cockatiels Recognize Their Reflection?

      There isn’t much scientific evidence to prove whether cockatiels recognize their reflection. 

      However, based on their behavior towards mirrors, they likely don’t. Cockatiels tend to treat their reflection as just another bird, singing to it and trying to interact with it.

      At times, cockatiels even attack their reflection when upon assuming it to be an intruder or a competitor. 

      During the mating season, a cockatiel gets aggressive at its reflection when the latter doesn’t return its affection and efforts to approach.

      It’s quite a common practice for cockatiel owners to keep a mirror inside the cage. The reflection keeps the pet company and gives it something to interact with.

      Can They Solve Simple Problems?

      Recent research has shown that avian species are much better at problem-solving than previously thought. 

      Many birds are known to use tools, and so are cockatiels. 

      For instance, when the water bowl is empty, they might drop stuff into it to raise the water level. They even use sticks for scratching hard-to-reach areas on their backs.

      Cockatiels crave problem-solving; they like to solve puzzles. This is why giving your cockatiel puzzle toys to play with is a good idea. 

      Also, remember that cockatiels are smart enough to open simple cage locks and escape – hence always make sure to use sturdy locks on their bird cages!!

      Cockatiel Intelligence - Are Cockatiels Smart
      These birds love problem solving and getting head scratches in return

      Can Cockatiels Learn Tricks?

      There’s a variety of tricks that you can teach your cockatiel. It takes some patience and effort, but a cockatiel can be taught to perform various stunts. 

      Their strong memory makes them great learners too.

      High fives

      This is a simple trick where you train the cockatiel to put a foot on your outstretched hand on a verbal command.


      It’s easy to train a cockatiel to perform 360-degree somersaults on your finger or a perch. Here, have a look for yourself!

      Spinning around

      You may teach your cockatiel to spin around like dancing when you give it a specific verbal command.

      Flexing wings

      Cockatiels can be trained to stretch out and flex their wings upon a simple command.

      FREE video course:
      Stop Your Bird's Biting

        Stepping up and down

        As described previously, these smart birds can also learn to step up and down a ladder or on and off a perch or your finger.

        Whistling tunes

        By repeatedly playing a tune to your cockatiel, you can help it learn to mimic it by whistling. Male cockatiels are especially good at this.

        A cockatiel’s ability to learn tricks is a major sign of intelligence that these smart birds display.

        Can They Play Games?

        Did you know that cockatiels are smart enough to play various games? This is what makes them particularly fun pets to have. 

        Let’s check out a few games that your cockatiel can learn to play:

        Birdie basketball

        You can teach your cockatiel to ‘play basketball’ by putting a tiny ball through a hoop. Many pet toy stores sell miniature basketball games made specifically for parrots.

        Cockatiel Intelligence - Are Cockatiels Smart

        Solving mazes

        Cockatiels can quickly learn to complete mazes. You may create a maze for your pet bird using large Lego bricks, cardboard, or any sturdy and suitable material you find. 

        Start with small and simple mazes, gradually increasing the complexity. You’ll have to place some treats along the way to motivate your cockatiel and train it to solve mazes.


        You don’t even need to teach your cockatiel this trick. They often learn by themselves to play peek-a-boo by hiding behind something and popping out to surprise you. 

        You can do the same by hiding behind a large cloth held up by another person or a blanket placed like a tent over the bed. 

        Getting your cockatiel to chase you around, trying to find you, not only keeps it excited and engaged but also gives it some much-needed activity.

        Here’s a video of a gray cockatiel playing peekaboo with its owner. Notice how quickly it understands the concept and is able to repeat the sound.

        Play Fetch

        Just like dogs, cockatiels can play fetch too. You can use a bauble, a Koosh ball, or a different soft toy for this. 

        Throw the toy at your cockatiel and give a short command like “Catch!”. 

        Get it to bring the toy back to you (it might do this automatically if you’re in luck), and praise it when it does so. 

        Repeat this process, praising the bird and scratching its head every time it fetches the toy.

        Apart from these, you can also buy or build your cockatiel various puzzles that they can solve.

        Are Cockatiels Emotionally Intelligent?

        Yes, cockatiels are very emotionally intelligent creatures. 

        Birds do have complex emotions like happiness, sadness, anger, etc., although they are not as advanced as other animal species. Signs of a cockatiel’s emotional intelligence include

        When a mate or a fellow bird kept in the same cage dies, a cockatiel will usually enter a period of grief. In many cases, they lose the will to live, stop eating, and eventually pass away out of sadness.

        Hand-trained cockatiels bond well with their owners and show clear signs of love and loyalty. Your cockatiel might even want to hitch a ride on your shoulder from time to time.

        Cockatiels are known to empathize with other birds and even humans. If a fellow bird is sad, a cockatiel will try to console it.

        The affectionate nature of cockatiels is quite well-known. They also tend to have a sense of fairness.

        Just like humans, the right hemisphere of a cockatiel’s brain is responsible for its emotions. 

        Cockatiel Intelligence - Are Cockatiels Smart
        Cockatiels can recognize their owners even after an year!

        Do Cockatiels Have Good Memory?

        Birds, in general, are known to possess a strong memory. 

        In the wild, they need it to stay safe from predators, find food, and remember where they hid food for consumption in winter. 

        Although domesticated cockatiels don’t need such capabilities for their survival, they still possess a great memory. For example:

        • As you know by now, cockatiels are great at memorizing phrases and tunes.
        • They can associate people individually with their behavior. If you mistreat them even once, they will hold a grudge against you.
        • Cockatiels can quickly get accustomed to routines and hate deviations.

        Do Cockatiels Recognize Their Name?

        Wondering whether your cockatiel can recognize the name you gave it? 

        Well, the answer is yes – these birds are intelligent enough to learn their names. However, it takes quite some time and doesn’t happen instinctively.

        When you keep repeating a cockatiel’s name while talking to it, it will eventually start to recognize the name

        At this point, you’ll see the bird perking up, squawking, or moving closer to you when you call it by its name. Cockatiels are also known to assign specific sounds to call out to each other.

        Do Cockatiels Recognize Their Owners?

        Cockatiels perceive the world similarly to humans, relying mostly on their eyesight. They can visually identify different people and remember them. So, you can rest assured that they recognize their owners too.

        Cockatiels even form deep relationships with their owners, showing affection and following them around. You may even find your cockatiel mimicking you and preening your hair – a clear sign that it loves you.

        Do Cockatiels Talk?

        Cockatiels are capable of speech in a way – they mimic human speech and songs. 

        FREE video course:
        Stop Your Bird's Biting

          Male cockatiels are particularly good at talking and can speak numerous words and phrases. On average, a cockatiel can learn up to around 250 words.

          However, unlike us, a cockatiel doesn’t use language to convey something specific. They do not understand words – they just memorize the pronunciations and repeat them.

          How Can I Make My Bird Smarter?

          Cockatiels are inherently smart, but their smartness also depends on their lifestyle and everyday habits. 

          Just like humans, their brains get a bit dull if they do not get to use their intelligence and engage in activities. 

          A bored cockatiel can also become aggressive and start showing self-destructive behaviors like pecking at its feathers.

          To make your pet bird smarter, you need to keep it mentally stimulated at all times. 

          Remember, a domesticated cockatiel doesn’t get nearly as much activity as a wild one. It’s imperative to make some adjustments to its habitat, such as building more perches to climb on.

          Cockatiel Costs And Where To Buy
          Giving them lots of toys and puzzles will help make them smarter

          You should also keep an adequate number of bird toys in the cage to keep the cockatiel engaged

          Apart from simple toys, various games designed specifically for birds are available at pet stores and online too. 

          You can also give the bird puzzles to solve – it’s a great way to stimulate their brains.

          Apart from these, your cockatiel should also get enough opportunities to socialize. They are social birds and can easily become distressed without any interaction.

          More than human interaction, it would also be nice if your pet had another bird to socialize with.

          Frequently Asked Questions

          Can cockatiels understand you?

          Your cockatiel likely doesn’t understand you. They can only mimic words by hearing them repeatedly – they do not understand words the way we do. 
          Cockatiels perceive human speech more as a tune or song than language. 
          So, sorry to disappoint you, but even if your cockatiel is speaking entire phrases, it doesn’t really know what they mean.

          Are cockatiels smarter than cats?

          You might be wondering if a cockatiel is more intelligent than a cat. Yes, cockatiels are even smarter than cats, as confirmed in a study. 
          These smart birds beat the felines both at problem-solving and comprehension.

          How many words can cockatiels learn?

          Cockatiels can learn up to around 250 words, which is quite impressive considering they’re just birds. 
          Moreover, their strong memory allows them to remember these words clearly for a very long time

          Do cockatiels get jealous?

          Birds are known to get jealous of other birds in the household, people, or even toys. This is especially true for cockatiels since they form very strong bonds. 
          Besides, cockatiels are monogamous and feel love only for one person or pet. As pets, they tend to show this affection to only one person and can get jealous if they don’t shower them back with love!

          Wrapping Up

          Evidently, the use of the term “bird brain” as an insult to someone’s intelligence is a mistake. 

          Birds like cockatiels are extremely smart and even beat larger animals like cats and dogs in this regard. 

          If you’re planning to be a cockatiel owner, you’ll soon see it for yourself! 

          Thank you for reading, and I hope your new pet will be amazing.

          Photo of author

          Team Beauty of Birds

's team of experts includes veterinarians, biologists, environmentalists and active bird watchers. All put together, we have over half a century of experience in the birding space.

          You can meet our team here.
          Team Beauty of Birds is separate from the “Parrot Parent University” parrot training course and its instructors.

          Leave a Comment

          This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.